technology

Technology patches for education

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | education, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.

Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.

However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).

Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning.

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.

Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?

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Tablets will not transform education

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Tablet, trends | Comments Off

“What a bold statement,” you may say, “particularly in view of the current proliferation of tablets and other mobile devices.”

Well, consider history.

In 1922 Thomas Edison reportedly said:

I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize [transform] our education system and that in a few years it will supplant the use of textbooks … The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture where it should be possible to obtain 100 percent efficiency.

Did this expectation come true?  In spite of the fact that some teachers used motion pictures with great success in their schools, we know that this medium did not manage to transform the education system.  What went wrong?

Edison based his prediction on a number of assumptions about this potentially powerful tool:

Content: He assumed that sufficient relevant content will be available in film format to cover all learning areas for all grades.

Affordable and available equipment: He assumed that motion picture equipment will be affordable and will be made available to every classroom.

Technology stability: He assumed that the motion picture will not be replaced by other technologies in the short to medium term, and will continue to be the first choice technology for entertainment and education of the masses.

Classroom integration: He assumed that all teachers will become skilled in using motion pictures as a substitute for textbooks and will change their teaching practices accordingly.

We now know that none of these assumptions proved to be true.  Yet, in later years, the same assumptions were made with regards to radio, TV, PCs, laptops, interactive whiteboards … and are now being made about tablets.  Let’s look at these assumptions again:

Content: In contrast with the erroneous assumption about content availability when the 1922 motion picture prediction was made, we can safely assume today that sufficient digital content is available as ebooks, educational software and even open education resources.  But now we are making another assumption: learners (and their teachers) will know how to find their way through the plethora of available content; the current under-utilization of such resources proves that this assumption is wrong.  This is clearly a case where more is not better, and the mere availability of content in no way guarantees that it will be used.

Affordable and available equipment: This is a more risky assumption; tablets are less costly than its PC and laptop predecessors, but how much will it cost – and how long will it take – to provide every child in the country with a tablet? For education to be transformed, more than a sporadic presence of technology is required; every teacher and child needs access to technology for it to have a significant effect.

Technology stability: Technologies have replaced each other rather rapidly over the years and the rate of change is accelerating; we can’t assume that the tablet as we know it today will be the device of choice in a year or two from now.  In fact, based on the history of technology, we can safely assume that it won’t!

Classroom integration: This is the most dangerous assumption of them all; it can almost be stated as a fact that it will take years – many, many years – to train and educate all our teachers to become comfortable in using technology for teaching and learning.

The flawed assumptions made in 1922 about a particular manifestation of technology are still being made today.  And we’ve only discussed four of them.

Until these suppositions become realities we can’t expect the tablet, or any other technology device, to revolutionize education.  A mere change in tools does not bring about transformation.

The full potential of technology can only be achieved if it is part of a complete rethink of education structures and practices.

Tablets will not transform education … unless we empower our teachers to become skilful users of technology!

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What is crowd speaking?

Monday, November 4th, 2013 | Blogging, technology | Comments Off

Most readers of this blog have the same thoughts about the use of technology in education.  Don’t you feel that it should be made a reality in our schools?

To give expression to our thoughts we may individually blog or tweet – we may even retweet a message when it resonates with us.  But our individual voices are soft and it frustrates us when we feel that we are not heard.

If a crowd of us speaks in unison, perhaps this will make a difference.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

Picture credit: Wikipedia

This is where “crowd speaking” becomes a possibility.  How can the crowd of us like-minded people speak together?  Social media provide the platform, and a tool like Thunderclap can concentrate our individual voices into one massive thunderclap.

It works like this: one person posts a message and others are then invited to allow Thunderclap to share that message on their behalf at a specific time.  The impact can be great.  For example, if 100 people agree with my message and give consent that it be sent to all their Twitter followers or Facebook friends, and each one of them has 100 connections, the message will go out to 10 000 people simultaneously!  What a powerful amplification of my small voice!

As an experiment, I have posted a message on Thunderclap.  Please participate, and ask your contacts to do the same.  Click here, and follow the instructions.  If this trial works, it may prove to be a valuable tool to get our message broadcasted … and hopefully heard!

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Why the fuss about tablets?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 | Tablet, technology | Comments Off

Tablets are taking the world by storm.  You see them wherever you go: on airplanes and trains even elderly people use them to read novels and magazines; in coffee shops men in suits are glued to the small screens while sipping their latés;  house wives watch movies on them; and children use them to play games.

Tablet hype is gripping the world.  Some claim that this technology innovation will be the one that will revolutionize education.  Others are less enthusiastic about the possibility that tablets will enhance education and point to previous technologies, such as laptops and interactive whiteboards, which have failed to bring about radical changes in teaching and learning.

Regardless of how we may view tablets, we can’t deny the fact that they are here.  And that is what the fuss is about … tablets are here by popular demand.

Production and sales of tablets are outstripping that of PCs and laptops.  Tablets are becoming more affordable, while their capacity and functionality are increasing with each new model appearing on the market.  The number of tablet owners and users is growing at a staggering speed.

It is impossible to ignore a ubiquitous device.  We may not like what car emissions are doing to the environment, but we can’t ignore cars when we want to cross a road; likewise, we can’t ignore the ever-growing presence of tablets on the planet.

Technology fascinates people, particularly younger ones.  Since tablets will fall into their hands at one or other time, we may just as well explore how to use them for educational purposes.  Cell phones and computers have already been found useful as teaching and learning tools; a tablet lies somewhere in between and should therefore be useful too.

Look past the hype factor and see tablets as potential education tools.   Discover the ways in which they can help to transform dull school rooms into exciting learning centres.

For more information about tablets click here.

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Not all e-learning conferences are scams

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 | technology, trends | Comments Off

Some time ago I posted an article on a phenomenon I called The conference scam.  I received many messages through Twitter and LinkedIn of people who agreed with the sentiments I expressed about conferences dealing with technology in education.  It should be noted, however, that not all conferences fall into this category.

Last week I went to a conference for teachers in Bloemfontein, organized by SchoolNet.  What a delightful and worthwhile experience that was!  It was attended by over five hundred teachers and the presentations were done mostly by teachers who shared their experience … this was clearly not a money-making event, but one that truly helped teachers to hone their skills.

Over the next few weeks, two more conferences will be held that may be worthwhile to attend.

The Education Technology Summit 2013 is scheduled for 23-24 July 2013 and takes place in Midrand, Johannesburg.

Blended Learning: Perfecting the Blend is the theme of the The e-Learning Update – 2013 conference that will take place 6-8 August 2013  at the Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg.

Have a look at the programmes of these two conferences and decide if either one, or both, will be beneficial to you.

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Technology is used to improve safety on South African roads

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | internet, technology | Comments Off

The following media release may be of interest to you … it once again illustrates the value of harnessing technology.

How is My Drive.co.za strives to improve road safety and provides valuable feedback to drivers

Johannesburg, June 2013 — Every year approximately 14 000 people lose their lives in road traffic related accidents and thousands more are injured. How is My Drive.co.za has unveiled a new concept in South Africa which strives to improve these statistics. This new website provides road users with an easy-to-use online platform through which road incidents, such as bad driving, can be reported, stored and searched. This results in removing the anonymous nature of driving and provides valuable feedback to the public.

The idea behind the website was developed after witnessing multiple incidents involving reckless driving and a disregard for the rules of the road, which is increasingly becoming the norm in South Africa,” said Igor Rodionov, the creator of the website.  “After countless brain storming sessions it became clear that social responsibility and internet technology can be combined effectively to make a positive difference.”

Road users who are interested in improving road safety can create an account on the website and immediately become road spotters. This allows road users the ability to easily post road incident reports on any vehicle.  Once the report is submitted, it gets verified and becomes available via the search feature.

The idea is that by allowing road spotters to submit various reports using their computer or mobile phone, the anonymous nature behind driving is removed and the public can receive valuable feedback regarding their driving style. Using this information, bad drivers can improve their driving behaviour and become more reluctant to break road rules. In return, road spotters can register their vehicle registration and receive email notifications when reports become available on their vehicle.

Additionally, the website provides businesses, a commercial solution which allows them to monitor their drivers by placing a How is My Drive.co.za decal at the back of their vehicles. Their system has multiple benefits to businesses including reductions in accident rates and costs. Since the system does not use expensive call centres, How is My Drive.co.za is able to offer businesses a cost-effective solution.

How is My Drive.co.za is a website which is committed to making a positive change in road behaviour and a good South African initiative. To obtain more information, please visit www.howismydrive.co.za.

[This is a guest post; the content was provided by Igor Rodionov.]

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New technologies to see animal dissections obsolete in the classroom

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

Gone are the days when the smell of formaldehyde emanated from high school science class rooms; no longer is there a need to make the dissecting of frogs, rats, and other animals a strict requirement to be the top of the class.

Today’s budding high school scientists can wave that all goodbye as new technologies such as narrated computer software, step-by-step DVDs and lifelike manikins are being developed to help students gain practical, and even hands-on, knowledge of internal biological systems. This not only improves the lives of animals, decreases their capture in the wild, and eliminates the need for intentional breeding, but also marks great improvements for the educators and learners themselves.

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

All animals are conscious, living beings. We look to our educators to teach our students to be respectful of all life, and to teach the value of that life,” says Erika Vercuiel, manager of the Animal Ethics Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA).

There is no question that at times, medical research is needed, but we aim to replace, reduce and refine any process involving animals, especially at high school and first year university level.”

Countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, and Slovakia have already banned the use of animals in dissection at elementary and high school level. Several states in America have also passed policies that require schools to offer alternatives to dissection to those learners who do not wish to participate.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the United States, 95 percent of medical schools in that country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and all Canadian medical schools, have discontinued the use of animal dissection for medical students and none expect or requires students to participate in animal dissection.

The PCRM reports that both students and educators prefer the use of simulation-based training to that of the use of animals. Studies have also concluded that learners engaged in alternative methods, such as interactive learning, narrated software, and DVDs, retain as much information – and in some cases even more – than students using animals.

In addition, for schools not financially equipped to purchase animals for each student, each class, each year, along with costly lab equipment, the once-off fees for the purchase of alternatives are a welcomed affordable option,” says Vercuiel.

Lessons become more efficient, as the time spent preparing and cleaning the classroom, teaching etiquette, and explaining procedures is eradicated when alternatives are employed. In addition, educators can customise and save lesson plans for their students.

Utilising alternative methods to dissection, especially at high school level, teaches learners additional lessons and benefits that go well beyond the biology lab.

Vercuiel continues, “Making a stand in the classroom encourages students to become conscientious citizens, who respect animals and their environment. This type of compassion has been shown to overflow to the child’s surrounding family and community.”

On the other hand, an insensitive attitude towards animals, especially by adults the children has been taught to emulate, can actually be negative lesson for young learners.

Several alternatives are currently available such as interactive DVDs, lifelike models and interactive computer models. The DVDs include general notes for teachers, and introduction to the external features of the animal, then leads the learners through the digestive, urinogenital, circulatory system, nervous system, and skeleton systems.

For more information on the ethical alternatives to dissection please contact Erika Vercuiel animalethics@nspca.co.za.

[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]

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5 Tips for teachers to get going with technology

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 | technology, Tips | Comments Off

Where do I start?

Where do I start?

Are you a teacher who would like to improve your teaching in the classroom?

Have you considered using technology as a tool to do so?  But you’re facing a dilemma – you’re not a technology boffin and you don’t know how to learn to use it?

Here are a few tips that may help you to get going:

A quick and easy way for you to learn to use technology is to buy it, switch it on, use it and ask for help when you’re stuck.

When you consider a technology training course, remember that Just-In-Time (JIT) training is recommended otherwise new skills can’t be reinforced and are soon forgotten.

You would likely respond best to face-to-face training; the comfort of the warm-body experience must not be under estimated.

A blended approach is possibly the best way of learning to use technology, using different available training options such as: enrolling for a training course; making use of e-learning material; trial and error discovery; and asking a friend for help when you’re stuck.

If you’re a technology novice, you may initially find entertainment available on a computer or a tablet (or even your smart phone) a painless introduction to technology.  Play a game, or download a few videos, or start reading an e-book, or sign up for one of the social networks.

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What is a MOOC?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 | trends | Comments Off

MOOC is the new buzzword in education – particularly in the higher education lexicon.

What is a MOOC?  It is an acronym for a Massively Open Online Course.  Let’s unravel the meaning of this phrase in reverse order:

It is a course, since it is courseware prepared by universities (or other education institutions) for accredited programmes of study.

It is online, since anyone with an internet connection can access it.

It is open, since you don’t have to pay for it.  Well, most of the time a MOOC is free; sometimes you are only charged for assessment and/or accreditation.

It is massive(ly),since internet access makes the course available to anyone, anywhere on the planet.  The student body is no longer restricted by location or accommodation.  In theory, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people can enrol for a particular course.

One may wonder on what technology platform MOOCs will be made available.  This is not altogether clear at this stage; the idea of free, open, online courses is appealing to many but the definition  of the technology engine is still in its development phase.

The movement towards MOOCs seems like an attractive option for the beleaguered education system in South Africa, but time will only tell how useful it will be.  Poor internet connectivity, a lack of access to technology devices and low levels of understanding of e-learning are some of the barriers that we have to overcome to make MOOCs viable alternatives to class-bound courses.

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Technology encourages learner involvement

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | education, technology | Comments Off

Recently I saw the following two quotations tweeted on Twitter:

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. (Oscar Wilde)

Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand. (Chinese proverb)

From the re-tweets and re-re-tweets of these snippets of wisdom it seems as if the sentiments expressed in them find resonance with many who are serious about education.

Telling happens when a teacher teaches or a lecturer presents a lecture.  A good teacher will also show … using diagrams, real world models, doing experiments, even showing video clips to serve as memory aids.  Sadly, that is where teaching in the classroom often ends.

Involvement of learners is important … but how do you accomplish this?  More than teaching and showing is required.  Involvement means that the learners must jump in boots and all into the learning material and participate in the learning process.  The result is that learners will make worthwhile knowledge their own because they have been active partners in the learning process.

You may have guessed where this is going – yes, technology is a powerful tool for teachers to involve learners.  The following are just a few of the many ways in which technology can take the classroom beyond a mere lecture room:

As the name implies, an interactive whiteboard (IWB) makes it possible for the teacher to involve the learners in the learning process in many different ways.  The good news is that some data projectors now have interactive features, which obviates the need for an expensive IWB, yet allowing for interactive learning to take place.

Learners love their cell phones and innovative teachers are already using these devices to draw learners into the learning experience.  Tablets play a similar role (for those who can afford them).

Where learners have access to the internet, they can create their own knowledge by doing research.  No more spoon feeding … learners can be taught to find, evaluate and analyse information and then synthesize what they’ve gathered into knowledge which they make their own.

Mathematical skills are acquired through practise, practise and still more practise.  Drill-and-practice programs are available on technology devices and these can be used to help learners to hone and own mathematical skills.

The screens of cell phones, tablets or computers encourage reading and the keyboards encourage writing.  Active use of these devices develop reading and writing skills … much needed in our country where the education system has not succeeded in “teaching” and “showing” these skills.

Let’s not just marvel at the wisdom of Wilde and the Chinese … put it in practice by harnessing technology to make learners active and eager participants in the learning process.

What learners will learn, experience and understand through active involvement is much, much better than all our well-prepared and smoothly presented lessons.

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